I wrote this in 1999 while I was still active duty, where it was published (though slightly edited) for the base newspaper at Fort Leonard Wood.
I listen to them snicker, and I wonder if they’re hiding something. I want to believe that; I want to believe that they’re trying to protect themselves from some pain through biting sarcasm. I’m just not sure that I can.
That night swims through my mind; I could barely walk into the mini-PX to buy the pills. I know my eyes were red from tears; I know my stare went straight through people to somewhere that didn’t exist. Nobody noticed. I didn’t give them much of a chance.
He talks about high-risk behaviors, about how a beer or two after work is just fine, but how a six pack or two a night is a risk behavior. Behind me, I hear an E-7 say, “Hell, that’s just getting warmed up,” and I remember.
I know why the guy across the hall ended up in rehab instead of me; I never made the mistake of pissing on someone’s door. Other than that, there wasn’t much difference between us. He had his own personal problems a thousand miles away, his family back at home. I had an infant son, a wife busy trying to smoke pot and fuck her life away, and a doomed relationship here I’d carefully constructed for myself. We both drank a lot. I was just a loner about it. I wasn’t drunk when I tried; but it couldn’t have helped my judgement.
I haven’t told my parents yet, four years later. The closest I’ve come to publicly “outing” myself about this before was at a suicide prevention class I taught earlier this year.
I hear the whispered comments you make, the accusations that those people are weak, that if they can’t hack it they shouldn’t be in the Army, and I wonder if you know that you’re talking about me. I wonder if you know that you’re setting an example for your junior soldiers. I wonder if you know you’re setting an example for me.
I think I’m over it now. Recently I was put under general anesthesia, and I wasn’t scared. I would have been a year ago. I certainly was back then.
My fingers were cold, and I had dozed. The pills were doing something, and it suddenly hit me that this was real, and the adrenaline was like a wall pushing me up, up the hill into the TMC, where I proceeded to scare the hell out of everyone I’d worked with for most of a year.
I think I managed to apologize to most of them before I left Korea.
I think about the KATUSA who blew his brains out down by the MP station that year; about the harrowing quality of his mother’s wails echoing through the halls. I remember the other guy who swallowed too many pills. I hadn’t liked him – and remembered that as I helped them carry the stretcher out of the second floor, as I heard the medic in the back of the ambulance say – no, scream – that he wasn’t breathing.
I think about the eyes of my fellow soldiers when I came back. I think about the eyes of my son now.
I’ve done a lot since then, since what the psychologists decided to call a suicidal gesture. I like to think that I’ve helped people, that I’ve made a contribution to people’s lives. I have a few good examples of people – NCOs and civilians – that I try to emulate, and sometimes I succeed. I hope that I affect some of my subordinates the way they – some of my earliest examples of senior NCOs – affected me.
I see you, sergeant. I see you snicker at yet another suicide prevention class, and I hope that it’s a defense mechanism, that you’ve lost someone close to you before. That you won’t let yourself think about it rationally, and joke to keep the pain at bay.
I hope… but I can’t believe it.